(River travel in Peru and Brazil)
– Put your hands up and spread your legs. – demanded the female police officer.
– Do you carry a bag? – she asked, while feeling my body fopr weapons and hidden drugs.
– No – I shook my head and pointed to the camera case hung on my neck.
She opened it just to make sure there was nothing but a camera in there. We had boarded a boat in Tabatinga (Brazil) a couple of hours ago, waiting to depart, while the police was rummaging through our bags. We were at a 3-way border between Brazil, Peru and Colombia. It took 2h to do it due to the high number of passengers. The regular boat service had been suspended due to the holidays (Xmas) and there had been a limited number of boats departing to Manaus.
The police separated the men from the women and each group stood on the side of the deck while the police officers were thoroughly checking IDs and bodies. Then they started going through the bags manually, opening them one by one. ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to just use a dog?!’ I thought and sure enough there was one sniffing at the other end of the deck. Whether it actually did anything is questionable. It looked hot and distracted while breathing heavily through his mouth. It drewled all over the bags. ‘This is disgusting!’ I thought. ‘I hope it doesn’t go anywhere near my bags.’ Luckily it didn’t.
All that time both men and women stood on just one side of the deck, the maze of hammocks was lifted, and all bags opened following police orders. All this after I had barely managed to find a tight space in the middle of the deck to hang my hammock and had carefully secured my bags by wrapping them in black bin bags.
– Keep an eye! – said the woman sitting on the bench next to me, conspirationally pointing to her eye and leaning towards me. I shook my head in confusion, I couldn’t understand what she meant.
– Keep an eye on your bags! – she explained – It is very dangerous now. Someone might slip drugs into your bag. Keep an eye! – she repeated. I kept an eye all right! I was not going to let anymore shit happen.
Standing there in the heat, keeping an eye on my open bags, it suddenly hit me. I haven’t seen my iPod in its usual spot in the uppser pocket of my small backpack. I haven’t seen it in a few days as a matter of fact. I mentally ran through my bags hoping it would be in a different pocket but I had a strange feeling it wasn’t as I hadn’t seen it while re-packing my bags earlier that day. It slowly dawned on me – it had been stolen. It must have happened on the very first boat I boarded as that’s the only time I took it out to listen to some music. Funny thing is I didn’t even remember what happened. Hell! It only dawned on me that it has been stolen a few days later. I remember listening to it on the hammock, then having it in my pocket while wandering around the boat, and then nothing. I must have either left it in the hammock or in an open bag and wandered off. I wonder if I’d slost it or it’d been stolen. I have no idea what happened.
That’s only one of the few unpleasant incidents that happened in the last 5 days (!). You know when shit happens it seems to happen all at once. I have already mentioned the fake dollar bills incident in a previous post, now let’s rewind a bit to New Year’s Eve when my hiking boots got stolen.
It has been a quiet night for me. I went to bed early, reading myself to sleep. There were just a couple of passengers left on the upper deck. In the middle of the night, sometime after 12 o’clock one of the guys woke me up mumbling something about being robbed. He was saying his bag has been stolen and that I should check mine. I gave it a quick glance through sleepy eyes and everything looked fine. The bags were there, safely locked to the iron pole. I got up for a bit as I couldn’t fall asleep – we were at a harbour overlooking a town’s plaza. Fireworks could still be seen here and there.
I went back to sleep while the guys talked about the stolen bag. I heard a crew member saying that it was downstairs and thought the guy had made it up. Worry-free I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning, washed up, still unsuspecting a thing. I started packing up and half way through it I realised my hiking boots were missing. My brand new, a $150 hiking shoes were stolen on New Year’s Eve.
– Fuck! – I exclaimed – My shoes have been stolen.
That’s when the guys repeated what had happened. They had seen a guy in dirty trousers and a bag come up during the night. Nobody had come on board while we were at harbour so it must have been a crew member. I ran downstairs, found the owner and demanded all crew members’ bags were searched. We went through all of them and found nothing.
– Did you fall asleep? – the owner asked.
– Of course I did! – I said, unbelieving of his question. That’s what people normally do at night, no?!
– All Peruvians are like that – he said. What a great thing to say about one’s mother land.
– I usually lock tourists’ bags in a cabin – he said – It is too dangerous to leave them on the deck. Jeez! Couldn’t you tell me earlier, possibly before I got my shoes stolen.
I was pissed off. Got off the boat in a terrible mood. ‘I hope you all burn in hell!’ I thought in rage. ‘Bloody bastards. Couldn’t you steal my sandals (cheap)?! It had to be the hiking boots.’
It was 6am, I was hungry and immigration was closed. The guy was supposed to open at 8am. People advised I knocked on the door. I banged my fist against the wooden door for nothing.
– He got drunk last night and is probably asleep in there – said passers by disapprovingly.
I waited until 8am and decided to follow people’s advice and come back later. I left agitated and frustrated thinking what a way to start the new year. I hope it doesn’t continue the same way.
I blamed others for the robberies but deep inside I couldn’t help blaming myself and myself only. I should have known better and secured my shoes properly. They were the only thing that wasn’t locked. I shouldn’t have left the iPod unattended. I have been naive and stupid and it cost me nearly $400. The feeling of being safe on the first boat has been false. Later when I discussed the incident (bragged about) with a fellow traveller we pondered about our ability to put ourselves in the locals’ places and the complete lack of their ability to put themselves in our shoes. As far as they are concerned we are rich gringos who wouldn’t miss their stolen possesions too much. Wait a minute! I didn’t grow up in a rich country or a rich family. I worked hard for my stuff and the right to travel. You have no right stealing it from me! ‘It is the lack of education’ some would claim. Hell no, it is not! I spoke to a 14 year old girl on the boat who told me they taught English at school but she didn’t want to study it because it was too difficult. ‘There are no nearby schools.’ the defenders would plead. My grandmother (God bless her!) grew up in the 30’s and 40’s. She had to walk 40km to school and back everyday, wearing a thin coat during the winter months. She was 8 years old. Both my grandparents are simple country folks and yet they taught me morals and manners. Stealing was bad and I had to throw rubbish in the trash can. I can’t excuse the Peruvians. It is not right. I left the country with mixed feelings – disappointed in the people but admiring the country’s natural beauty and what it has to offer. What a shame the two don’t match.